Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Oooohhh... pretty lighting...

Mark alerts us to pretty, pretty pictures of Half Life 2 models being rendered with HDR environmental light maps (a la Debevec). Oh my goodness is that sweet.

It looks like these are being done by a hobbyist for a fan-fiction movie. So no, they aren't real-time, but there's no reason they couldn't be. Bottleneck is not performance, but sampling data from real-world environments (if I remember correctly from siggy lectures of yesteryear).

We have the technology...

Something occurred to me:

In Episode III, after Darth Vader got BBQ'd, they show him getting suited up with 2 mechanical legs to add to his one mechanical arm. They also give him the vader helmet with special vision display thingies to enhance his vision.

Hmm.... two robotic legs, one robotic arm, enhanced vision.... where have I heard this before?


Monday, May 30, 2005

Star Wars

I saw Star Wars Episode 3 this weekend. Pretty much in agreement with most of the 'middle of the road' reviewers about it:

  • The dialog is bunk
  • much more light saber fightin' action, but it's not as well choreographed & paced as that of past movies
  • It's a shame that Padame went from being strong, independant girl, to weeping weakling.
  • Burnt darth is way cooler than unburnt darth
  • Franken-darth and "NOOOOO!!!!"-darth were so very crappy.
  • Get Jimmy Smits OUT of my Star Wars
  • Get Samuel Jackson out of my Star Wars unless you are going to give him bad-ass, Shaft-like jive talkin' accent. "Dark side? Kiss the dark side of my black ass, Palpatine!"
  • Bucketloads of CG and battle scenes make me still like it more than the last two.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

It's comin right at me!

I've added a link to my friend Tim's blog. Tim used to be like us, but now he works at Pomme, where they think different. Still I don't hold it against him.

Tim's a pretty good photographer and has been known to dive too. Tell me THIS isn't frightening!

Friday, May 27, 2005

Better than perfect

I went yesterday for my follow up appointment following my Lasik surgery. They looked at how my eye was healing and to give me an eye test.

I was doing the eye test and reading off letters and got down to what I thought was the smallest row. The one I'd struggled with when I had new glasses in the past. I read it just fine.

Then they popped up a smaller one, and I read it.

Then they popped up a smaller one, and I read it.

I half expected to hear sounds like this, and start crushing tennis balls in my hand.

End result: I have 20/15 vision in one eye (which is BETTER than 20/20) and slightly better than 20/20 in the other eye. AND IT MAY IMPROVE OVER THE NEXT WEEK!

It's very cool to be bionic.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Flip! Flap! Zap! No more glasses!

I had my lasik surgery done this morning, and now here I sit, typing away sans-lunettes. Wow, I wish I'd done it long ago. Very cool, very quick, very painless.

Here's a run-down of how it works for those interested.

A while back, I had them check if I was a suitable candidate. See my post about it. They check to see your prescription, astigmatism, pupil size and corneal thickness to determine if you are a candidate. All was a go, surgery scheduled for today.

Alisa dropped me off at 8:50am, my appointment was at 9:00. It went something like this:

  • 8:55: "Hello, give us your credit card". They then carefully removed $3400. This was the most painful part of the whole procedure.
  • 9:00: I am invited into back room, given some eye drops to restrict blood flow in my cornea. I'm given Valium and a few other goodies to "help me relax". This alone may be worth a few hundred. I was feeling AWWWWESOMMMME.
  • 9:20: after sitting around for a while letting the drugs kick in, they gave me some drops to numb my eye. They stang a bit and, the earlier joke aside, this was really the most painful part of the procedure. It was really nothing.
  • 9:30: Into the OR for the procedure (which I'll describe in further detail below)
  • 9:40: procedure finished. Out to sit in waiting room again. Things are blurry, but already way better than they used to be without glasses.
  • 9:50: In for a quick exam with another doctor to make sure things look OK.
  • 10:00 give me my eyedrops that I'll need for the next week, a souvenir travel mug, and I'm out the door.
  • 10:15 Alisa picked me up out front. I could pick out her van from 2 blocks away. Awesome!

The procedure itself was very cool.

They place a small spring clamp on your eyelid to hold it open. You could shut it if you really tried, so they ask you to hold the eye open.

Then they place a small suction ring on your eyeball to hold it still. You barely feel anything.

They then use a microkeratome (high-precision slicing blade kind of like a planer) to shave a flap off the cornea like this:

Don't let the gruesome image fool you. It's really painless. The fact that the blade vibrates like an electric carving knife is a bit disconcerting.

The next step involves peeling back the flap so they can administer the laser. This is the coolest part of the procedure. Before they peel it back, you are focusing on a white light in a ring around a red dot. Then they peel back the lens that accounts for 70% of your visions focus and you then focus on NOTHING because everything's such a blur.

Then then adminster the laser. You see some sparkly green light, and SMELL AN ACRID SMELL AS THE LASER VAPORIZES THE FLESH OF YOUR CORNEA.

Holy Cow. What a great time to be alive. This is the stuff of science fiction.

Anyhow, then he folds back the flap and smooths it out, making sure it's aligned and there's no debris, air bubbles, etc. The whole thing takes perhaps 3-4 minutes per eye.

The rest of the day was spent putting drops in every 30 minutes for a few hours, then every 60 minutes.

So far, no complications. I'd have done it sooner if I'd known how easy it was!

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Booth Babe Rebellion Afoot?

Several folks have ranted recently about the booth babe phenomenon and how it's getting out of control. This of course is not unique to the games industry. Sex sells and it does so across the board. However, signs of rebellion are showing, and that's good news, I guess.

At E3, Agetec had an anti-booth-babe campaign going. Great photos! Check them out here. Robin told me of a friend who was at E3 working on a documentary on "the booth babe phenomenon". (Robin also wrote a related piece a while back which is a good read).

Not unique to the games industry, this article related to the auto industry's SEMA show talks about their contemplating dress-code guidelines for booth babes.

I hope this gains some traction in the game industry. Don't get me wrong. I dig a chick in a thong as much as the next guy, but this simply isn't going to help grow the market for games beyond the "15-to-35 year old boys". And what's more - it simply is NOT necesary. We're selling *games* for chrissake. It's not like we're selling something boring like tires or pork bellies.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

I Survived E3!

I survived another E3. This was my 11th. I think. I beleive I've been to them all, though I lose count sometimes, which is itself a symptom of attending E3 (noise beats the sense out of you).

I'll post something on games I saw that I liked (short list) and other impressions in the coming days. In the meantime, I'm rocking an E3-induced cold and have to go back to the office tommorrow for the first time since early March. Yikes!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Back to the ol' grind

As I've mentioned, I've been on Sabbatical since March 12. Well, tommorrow I'm off to E3 and then monday it's back in the office. Sigh.

I got to celebrate my last day off by getting up at 3:30am to drive my mom to the airport. Tommorrow I get to do the same thing to get myself to the airport.

Sigh again.

I remember when 4am was when I collapsed into bed, not when I was starting a commute.

Oh well.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Master chef strikes again!

I forgot to add this in my last post!

A while ago at a local restaurant that was awesome but has since closed for inexplicable reasons, I tried some basil ice cream. "Basil?!?" you say, jaw gaping. Yes, that's what I said too, so I had to try it. Anyhow, it was awesome.

I thought, hmm, if basil works, then the world of herbs and spices is rife for ice cream experimentation! I'm like columbus, but with an ice cream maker instead of a ship, and a thick waistline instead of scurvey.

I figured Cilantro seemed like a nice place to start (kind of lemony/citrus-y as far as herbs go), plus my wife loves it. And since it's often combined with some lime in many dishes, I threw some of that in too.


I was a little conservative with the cilantro since I didn't know if it would be overbearing or not. I would probably double it up next time, but still, it turned out very well.

Where shall I go next? Ha ha! The world is my oyster! Though I probably wouldn't do oyster ice cream....

"You know, you were once held by a lesbian"

...among the funny things my mother has uttered this week while visiting.

My wife and her mom have been in Japan on a 10 day trip (today is day 8), and my mom flew in to help me watch the twins. It's been a lot of fun catching up, hearing childhood stories (hers and mine), and it's been fun dusting off my french (we've been speaking mostly french all week).

Quebecois french is funny because they've picked up a lot of English words and then "frenchified" them.


  • From the song "Le Centre D'Achats" by Les Colocs, "Bulldozer" is changed to "Bulldozeur"
  • A term for small jobs (e.g. chores or such), is "Jobines" (pronounced job-in with the S being silent). So the english 'job' rather than 'travaux', or 'tache' (work, task), but then the -ine is added much as you'd add -let in english (book, booklet)

Anyhow, has been fun.

In other news: Rented the life aquatic. Pretty funny and I loved the sountrack. Waiting to see if impulse-buy urge wears off and if not will buy.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Tiles and Tribulations....

Not my pun, but one from "Word Wars: Tiles and Tribulations on the Scrabble Circuit". A documentary I rented from blockbuster today and that I HIGHLY recommend.

I rented it thinking it might have some interesting insights into the gameplay behind scrabble, what appeals to different players, especially competitive players and the like. As it turns out, there wasn't much along those lines, but there were three things in it that were great:

  • As a fan of word games (I play some Scrabble, Upwords, and Boggle at home, though I'm not that great at any of them - I also play a few of the yahoo/popcap/etc word games - By the way, Word Ninja is awesome, as is it's brethren, Kung Fu Chess, the guys at Shizmoo are awesome) - anyhoo, as a fan of word games, it was just fun to see master players at work, or at play, or whatever.
  • Surprisingly, it was a great character movie, as it contained the best characters - real ones! Quirky, interesting, strange people. Especially some of those in the bonus footage around the games played in the park in NY.
  • Finally, I'd not expected to get wrapped up in the energy of the tournament so much. I briefly played some competitive chess in college and went as far as the provincial (for you americans, that's like a state, only with WAY more moose) finals tournament. I remember the excitement of checking the states at end of day, seeing how others did, remembering the camraderie amongst nerds :-)

While not a huge thing, the film also does a really nice job of highlighting played tiles, pausing action, etc, in order to bring the viewer along without missing what otherwise would be details only accessible to other expert players.

There are several moments in the film that dance around making this point: Scrabble champions are losers.

By that I mean, they point out several times that by and large, these people have dedicated a significant portion of their life to studying and practicing the game - to the point where most aren't professionally successful, many aren't socially or romantically successful either.

The same was true of the chess scene when I briefly spent some time in it. In small regional competition my natural ability and moderate amount of time I spent practicing (i.e. time cutting class) did OK for me. But larger tournaments I ran into real players. Guys who *studied* the game, and other players games, and I couldn't match that.

*An aside: In some ways, I was a bit like Marlon in the film, in that while other players during provincials got an early night in to be fresh the next day, me and another player decided to go out bar hopping for the night. The guy I went out with had a very dramatic game the next day where he passed out at his table after making his first couple moves. His clock then ran down 2o minutes until he had 5 minutes remaining, when he suddenly woke up. So he then had to play speed chess while his opponent didn't. And he still won! Then we went out between rounds and, ahem, partook of the herb.

ANYHOO! I'm wondering if there's an equivalent here in other areas. Is the disfunctional, obsessed, scrabble or chess player really very similar to the workaholic CEO who's "married to the job"?

Food for thought. Anyway, go rent it! It's really good!

Monday, May 9, 2005


I'm eight weeks into my ten week sabbatical (shriek!). In a little over a week I'll attend E3, after which I'll return to my ninety-thousand-person-strong employer and get the nose back to the grindstone.

At big companies, the grindstone is often fueled with PowerPoint slides. It's been a long time since I've read or authored any (with the exception of my talk at centennial a couple weeks ago). In the past, I've given a LOT of presentations. Internal-to-work, externally, to an individual, to a thousand people. Some have been pretty good, IMHO, others have been downright crappy.

Related to powerpoint (PPT for short) though, I finally got around to having a look at one of Edward Tufte's books, Visual Explanations, which is about how to present information in a way that leaps off the page. Tufte's also well known for his Cognitive Style of Powerpoint, a PPT-bashing rant that was reprinted in Wired (a.k.a Cosmo for Geeks), to much applause from the beard'n'sandal contingent.

Anyhoo. So I was flipping through Visual explanations and thinking about presentations and presentation style.

A couple days earlier, I was listening to MP3's of Richard Feynman's Lectures on Physics. While a good refresher on subject, it's also a great lesson on presentation. Feynman was a wonderful speaker (despite his accent :-). The wrap up of the 3rd lecture from volume 1 is MASTERFUL!

Anyhoo. So tonight I'm checking what's new in the blogosphere, and find out that Mark is also in a PPT quandry. And his thoughts triggered some from me, so, here they are.

What's the problem with powerpoint, and is it really a problem with powerpoint?

Despite Tufte's very aesthetically pleasing brochure/rant (brochurant? Quick - put me in the Wired jargon section!), I don't really have a problem with PowerPoint's constraining users to it's templates and formats. I can see how Tufte has a point, but I think the problems with common powerpoint usage are far more pervasive - to the point where the format/template issue is micenuts.

The problems, in my not so humble opinion, are as follows:

  • Thinking in Powerpoint: This one's easy - people have a problem to tackle, crack open powerpoint, and start going. But the don't know what they want to say. Figure it out first, THEN bust out the laptop. In otherwords, if you can't make the point verbally, you aren't going to make it with slides.
  • Powerpoint-as-substitute-for-strategy: Kind of the same as the above point, only taken to the next level. Given enough data, and enough pretty slides, one can weave a very elaborate, long-winded, dramatic story. No one may notice that the story has no end though, again, back to "if you can't just pitch it verbally".
  • Powerpoint-as-substitute-for-presentation skills: Slides won't support a crappy speaker that doesnt know that they are presenting and/or does so poorly.
  • Double-duty: In these days of email communication, PPT's are sometimes expected to stand-alone by themselves. However, this should look and feel VERY different than one that is being presented by a human, to one or more other humans. In a presentation, the presenter should lead you through the thought process - the story - and the slides should just have some supporting data, more maybe key points to reinforce the verbal. Not the whole thing. Problem though, is that sometimes you need the stand-alone, and people aren't willing to author two. Which brings me to my next point:
  • Laziness: Thinking of a point you want to make, and thinking of how to present it visually in a way that leaps off the page, is a LOT of work. I've spent hours working on a single illustration to make point. I've also found myself saying "this slide from this other presentation from this other guy KIND of says what I want to say, I'll just paste it in". Ah, but this is a slippery slope!

At this point, I suppose I should give a bunch of guidelines on what to do, but I guess I could just say: Don't make any of the mistakes in list of bullets above.
Whew! Rant over!

Sunday, May 8, 2005

God of.... CRAP!

I decided to pick up God of War for PS2. Despite the violence/etc content, I'd heard it was a well designed game and worth having a look at.

I *HATE* it. Ugh. It's a button-mashing fighting game. I might be dressed up with better graphics, better story, better cinematics, but at the end of the day, you still win through button mashing.... including segments where they basically tell you PRESS THE X BUTTON AS FAST AS YOU CAN!!!!

Ugh. Wish I'd rented it. It's getting sold tommorrow! Blech! Back to Psychonauts!!!

Saturday, May 7, 2005

Viva la Psychonauts!

Viva la originality!

What a lovely game. Great dialog - not the cheezy "OK-for-a-game" dialog, but Pixar-film-level dialog (almost anyway). Great setting, theme, good humor, just can't say enough about it. Go buy today! Do not pass go! Do not collect $200!

In other news, my wife left for Japan yesterday for 10 days with her mom. Her mom has a pen pal there she's been writing to for over 50 years. Since the age of 13 or so. Pretty amazing when you consider that was just post-WW2 era, and they've known each other through marriage, divorce, kids, grand-kids, etc, etc. And they've never met! A local news crew will be covering their meeting. Should be very very cool.

My mom is visiting to help me out with the twins. 10 days without supermom! Yikes!

Friday, May 6, 2005

"I'm just going to poke you in the eye..."

I went for my consultation app't for my Lasik surgery the other day. They had to measure the thickness of my cornea, which involved poking it with a high-precision version of a stud-finder (why do those always end up pointing at me? )

So they put some anesthetic drops in and start poking.

Man is having your cornea tinkered with cool.

I'd had a similar experience when I was a bike courier (many years, many pounds, ago) and got a shard of metal in my eye, and the doctor had to remove it. When they poke or pull at it, the world distorts like you are looking in a circus mirror. It's like a crazy pixel shader demo :-)

Maybe when this is all over I should make a pixel shader demo that simulates all the stages of lasik surgery as seen by the patient.

Next step: Taking a block-plane to my cornea - which they'll do at the beginning of the surgery. Fun!

My apologies...

...to the residents of Tacoma, WA and Surrey, BC, for what I am about to say:

Tacoma Washington has hereby beaten out Surrey, BC, for the title of "City with the Sleaziest Dressed Teenage Mall-flys".

Noted, as I stopped there yesterday on my way back from seeing friends in Seattle.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming.

Sunday, May 1, 2005

Game Development for Beginners

For the Centennial Middle School kids that attended my career day talk, I promised some pointers to some places to get them started if they were interested in trying their hand at developing their own games. Here it is:


  • Awesome 3d Game Development: No Programming Required - Clayton Crookes: This book is probably a great place to start for most of you. It also includes 3D Game Maker, listed above, and some other tools, on the CD Rom that comes with the book.
  • Game Programming for Teens - Maneesh Sethi: This is a little more advanced (as the title implies, programming is required), but it's a good place to get started if you are going to try your hand in that department.

Game making tools/kits that don't require any programming (or very little)

  • RPG Maker 2 for Playstation 2: You should be able to find this at any store that sells PS2 games, or if not, find it online. This lets you create your own Role Playing Game (thus the name). Not too flexible in what you can do, game-wise, but you get to write the story, design the monsters, etc. Probably very difficult to use without a keyboard for the PS2, so think about getting one of those with it.
  • The Game Factory: This one is available for PC. It lets you make simple 2D games. There's a free trial version that lets you design games, but not share them with friends. For that, you need to buy the software ($29).
  • 3D Game Maker: Another no-programming-required tool for PC, this one for making 3D games. No free version for this one, you'll need to buy it.

Art Programs:

  • Cosmic Blobs: Is an easy-to-use program if you want to try making 3D objects.

Summer Camp!

  • If you get some of the books or programs above, try developing some games, and then are still REALLY interested, there's even a summer camp for aspiring game developers. InternalDrive offers camps in game modding and game development for kids 10 years old and up. Unfortunately, there are none in Portland, but there's some offered in Seattle. See the website for more info. Not cheap though! Almost $1000 a week for kids to stay there and attend the camp. Find out more here.

That's it. Hope it's useful! I'd love to see your games when they are done!